August 14, 2008

Faster, Portable Bird Flu Test Being Developed

Scientists in the UK are working to develop a portable test that will identify the bird flu in just two hours.

Right now, the identification process takes about a week, because laboratory tests are needed.

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University said they are designing a test that can be used at the scene of a possible outbreak, thus identifying strains much quicker and saving lives.

So far, tens of millions of birds have died or been slaughtered as a result of bird flu in Asia and beyond.

Scientists are concerned that the bird flu could mutate and cross the "species barrier" to effect humans. At the moment, the H5N1 strain, while highly infectious among poultry, is not easily passed to humans, and cannot be passed from human to human.

If the species barrier was crossed, it could lead to a potentially dangerous global pandemic, scientists said.

Once it does manage to infect a human, H5N1 is usually a killer.

In Indonesia, one of the most affected countries, 102 people, primarily those in close contact with infected poultry, have fallen ill, with four out of five dying.

One of the problems is that the early symptoms, such as cough and fever, are shared by other, common infections, delaying diagnosis.

But if H5N1 is identified within a few days, it can be treated through anti-viral drugs.

UK experts have called for a national surveillance program to detect H5N1 cases in Indonesians.

But Nottingham Trent University's Dr Alan McNally said his new test, which uses a swab of saliva from a patient's mouth to detect bird flu, could make a huge impact.

"There's a large train of thought that one of the best ways of dealing with avian influenza is by detection and containment.

"The ability to detect and type the influenza virus immediately is essential in setting up controls as quickly as possible to minimize the spread of any potential pandemic virus."


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